Last week I almost didn’t tithe….deliberately.
The sermon had just ended and I was sitting in my seat, all ready to stick my little check in the offering bucket. Then one of the pastors made an announcement about an upcoming event, and I immediately reconsidered my decision. He explained that, in connection with the current sermon series on dating and marriage, the church staff would babysit everyone’s children so that parents could have a date night together. In addition to this gesture, the church would even provide the couples with $20 toward their evening. All of this was in the spirit of building up our members’ marriages, encouraging them to implement the principles they’d learned from the pulpit.
Well as soon as I heard this, I almost withheld my tithe. I live on a very meager salary, so while I don’t mind tithing for the purpose of running the church, sending people on missions, and aiding in charity, I wasn’t about to give my money away so that other people, who have more money than I do, could go out on a date. If that’s how the church was gonna use it, then I might as well hold onto it for myself! After all, I could use a date! Why do the people who already have a spouse and a job need my hard-earned money?
So I sat there for a moment or two, debating whether or not I should still give my tithe. Eventually the better side of me won out, and I gave my tithe anyway. As a member of my church, I trust, honor and respect the decisions of my leaders, so I decided to submit myself to them in this case, even if I didn’t fully understand. But I’m not gonna lie–I still feel a little irked about the whole thing. Sometimes being single is the pits.
(In light of some of the comments posted since I wrote this post, I feel the need to add that this was not meant to be an indictment of my church, which I LOVE very much. It was instead meant to be an honest reflection of my thought process. I have always desired that my honesty about my struggles might help others work through their own struggles. While I started at a place of frustration, I tried to end with a more godly attitude, which is the trajectory of what follows…)
Now before you assume that I’m writing this solely to vent my frustration, I want you to know that the idea for this post did not originate with me. It actually came from a pastor in Minnesota who is himself married. He wrote me with the following question, which took on new significance to me in light of this recent church experience:
How do churches, in an effort to emphasize healthy family ministry, send unintentional and innuendoed messages that say, “if you’re not a family (mom, dad, 2.5 kids, and a dog) you won’t fit in here.”
Some examples: displaying pictures of church leaders that include their families (message=gotta have a family to be a leader); family camping outing (message=not for singles); supper 8s (message=this is an event for couples, thus the even number). Am I overdoing this or am I on to something?… tell me what you really think.
When I first read this question several weeks ago, my initial reaction was one of slight disconnect. Honestly, being single is not something I struggle with very often. When there is an occasional church event for married couples, it doesn’t really phase me. Sure, there have been times when I’ve yearned for a husband, but it’s not a thorn in my side, and I generally haven’t felt like my church was alienating me in that regard.
But over the last several weeks as my pastor has preached through Song of Solomon, I’ve begun to see how many single people might feel that way. I’ve heard numerous statistics about how much happier married people are than single people, how married sex is better than single sex, and how marriage is the best means for sanctification that God has given us.
(And I can’t fail to mention that our “homework” at the end of each sermon has gone something like: “Single people: make a list of standards you should have for your spouse. Married people: go have mind-blowing sex.” Umm, can I please have the married people’s homework??)
So all of these subtle and not so subtle messages slowly piled up in my head, culminating with the announcement about the date night. That was the final straw. I felt that, while we are instructed to find completion in Christ alone, we are simultaneously taught that life is most rich and fulfilling when shared with a spouse. In doing so, our church leaders seem to be talking out of two different sides of their mouths.
And the more I have reflected on this, the more I have realized its effects on me. Like I said, I have always been content with my singleness, but I am starting to suspect that my contentment was merely an illusion. It’s not that I had accepted the possibility of never getting married, and was at peace with it. Rather, I was at peace with being single NOW, assuming that one day I will get married. My contentment rested on the hope of eventually getting married, not my fulfillment in Christ alone.
When I am completely honest with myself, I have to admit that my life will be missing something, somehow incomplete, if I don’t get married and have kids. And while there is a degree to which these desires are entirely God-given, there are times when our churches are irritating the waiting process.
This leaves us with an interesting predicament. On the one hand, marriage is one of the most fundamental building blocks of a healthy culture and church, so it’s important to build up our marriages as effectively as we can. That said, the solution to discontented singles is not to stop talking about marriage.
On the other hand, has the emphasis on building up the family become lop-sided? I suspect that it has, but how do we re-center ourselves?
In my opinion, there are two solutions to this problems, both of which require action on the part of us singles. Let us never become the sort of Christians who sit around and complain, but never do anything about it. The Church belongs to us as well, so we need to take ownership in its ministry. With that in mind, here’s what I believe we need to be doing:
1) Help your leaders in ministering to singles. If the sermons and ministries are becoming married-centric, voice your concerns to the pastors in a constructive and gentle way. Our leaders aren’t mind-readers, so they can’t know you are frustrated or struggling if you don’t tell them. Also, offer them ideas for ministering to single people, and when you propose your ideas, don’t simply expect them to take care of it for you–help them! Give of your time in serving the church so that they can more easily implement the changes you have proposed.
2) Continue striving for contentment in Christ alone. I know this sounds like a bit of a cop out, but no matter how hard your church tries, they can never make you feel secure if you yourself are not working toward that end. We have got to take responsibility for our own satisfaction in Christ, and as long as we live in a culture that sells sex and relationships as the ultimate source of happiness, this will be a struggle. It is a battle you must resolve to fight.
As someone who is in the trenches with you, please know that you are not alone if you are feeling lonely or frustrated. But as the saying goes, lonely single people only make for lonely married people, so the answer does not lie in finding a mate. The more we embrace this truth, the more we will experience peace. Not only do I desire such a peace, but I want to be so enveloped in Christ’s love that my only reaction to announcements about date nights and sermons about sex is rejoicing. Praise God for the gift of marriage! Maybe I will have that gift one day, but whether or not I do, I already have the greatest gift of all.